Ryan Zimmerman played a total of 67 games in the minors after he was drafted 4th overall in 2005, and before he was called up to make his MLB debut in September of ‘05, and the now-37-year-old infielder said one of the most imposing things he had to do in his 16-year career was walk into his manager Frank Robinson’s office for the first time when called up late in his first year as a pro.
“I was terrified,” Zimmerman told reporters in his press conference in advance of his No. 11 retirement ceremony on Saturday.
“Twenty-year-old, I didn’t have a suit, so I was already in trouble, because you actually had to wear suits back then,” he continued.
“I had to go in and introduce myself to Frank Robinson, when nobody at age 20 ever got called up, especially in the first year you got drafted. For some reason that was my fault, I guess. I got called up and everybody hates you when you get called up like that because you didn’t go through the minor leagues. I shouldn’t say, ‘hate.’”
“But, yeah, I remember that day,” Zimmerman continued. “You walk in and you’re scared to death. You don’t want to do anything wrong. You’re coming into a clubhouse of grown men.
“As a twenty-year-old, I was like drinking $2 pitchers, like, it probably wasn’t even $2 back then. So you grow up fast.”
And he adjusted quickly to major league life, and spent the next 16 years playing in D.C.
“You meet the guys, you get to know them, and you get into a couple games and you kind of realize it’s the same game, it’s the same thing you’ve been doing, it’s just on a different level,” Zimmerman said.
He spent a year-plus with Robinson, who was the manager for the Nationals’ first two years in Washington, and learned a lot from the Hall of Famer, who died back in 2019.
“He was such a leader by example,” Zimmerman said. “I’d say he’s one of the best baseball guys, but I think just one of the best humans. He did so much for more than just baseball. I think he just taught me kind of how to handle myself, play the game the right way. Talking with his daughter a little bit, he wanted me to — he kind of thought that I was going to maybe play for a little while, he never told me that, he told me I stunk all the time, but I think deep down he wanted to make sure that he knew that I knew how to handle myself and respect the game and — I don’t know, just lead the way with class, I guess, and he kind of would always throw that stuff in there.”
Zimmerman and D.C.:
The first draft pick by the Washington Nationals. The first National to have his number retired. Sixteen years with one team. Part of the team which won the first World Series championship by a D.C.-based team since 1924. And a personal services contract that guarantees he’ll be part of the organization for years to come. But either way, his No. 11 hangs from the facade of the second deck in the nation’s capital. And flags fly forever.
Zimmerman has what really is a unique connection to Washington, D.C. and his eighth big league skipper talked about the bond and history between the city and the Virginia-raised and educated Nat.
How did he endear himself to a generation of baseball fans in the DMV?
“He was and still is that constant professional,” Martinez said. “That’s what I know about him. I remember, it’s funny, because I can remember him coming to my office when things weren’t going so good, and just sitting down and asking me, ‘How are you holding up?’ And I’d say, ‘Hey, I’m fine.’ And he’d always talk, he says, ‘Man, you never seem to be bothered or rattled by anything.’ But then I thought about it last night, and I sat, and I go, ‘I wonder if he realizes that he’s the same guy?’ He never seems to be bothered by anything, he just goes about his business, he was the guy who says, ‘We’ll get’em tomorrow.’ ‘We’ll get’em tomorrow.’ That was his thing. So, I think I’m going to tell him today, I said, ‘Hey, every now and then you should look in the mirror, because you’re the same guy where you seem like you’re just a constant, that nothing rattles you and you’re going to show up the next day and do the best you can to help whatever you need to do, you’re going to do the best to get it done.’ But that’s who Ryan is, that’s what he does, whether it’s family, whether it’s for fans, whether it’s for charity, whether it’s for teammates, he was that guy, he was that guy that was always around wanting to help.”
We Davey Learn?:
Davey Martinez has talked in recent weeks about his relationship with Ryan Zimmerman, and the fact that it’s extended beyond Zim’s playing days, and he discussed the bond he formed with the face of the Nationals’ franchise during their time together between 2018-22. What did he learn from and about Zimmerman?
“Like I’ve always said,” as Martinez always says, “he’s that guy that shows up and is ready for anything. That’s who he is. I saw him as a third baseman, and then I saw him move to first base. I saw him later in his career, I had him as a DH and I had him as a part-time player. He took it all in, took it all in gracefully, and did his job the best he could.”
And as much as his on-field contributions, Martinez said Zimmerman made a real impact in the clubhouse as well.
“He was that very subdued leader,” the manager explained. “He didn’t say much, but when he spoke, everybody listened. When he wanted to send a message, he did it in a way where it wasn’t a big ordeal. He would grab a guy and have a conversation whether it was here in the clubhouse, whether it was on the bus, whether it was sitting at a restaurant with a teammate. He would do it very discreetly, but his message would get across, that’s who Ryan is.”
Though he dealt with a variety of injuries which limited him in his career, Martinez said that during their time together, he continued to contribute in any way he could as he fought to get back on the field, even if it was frustrating for Zimmerman.
“He’d come to the ballpark, he’d rehab, he’d be there, he’d be there for his teammates, he’d go through his day in hopes that he’s going to get ready soon to help those guys out on the field, but that’s who he was,” Martinez said.
“You — never once did you hear him ever complain. It’s frustrating. As we all know, being hurt.
“But you never heard him complain about it. He was always trying to get ready to come back and help us win in any way he can possible.
“And like I said, the perfect example was that we missed him all through ‘19, but when he came back he was such a huge impact to how we finished the season and what we did in the playoffs and World Series. He jumpstarted our offense in Game 1 of the World Series, as we all know, he hit a monster home run, and that sparked us and that got us going, so I’ll never forget that moment either.”
Martinez said the effect on his team in the dugout was tangible from the moment Zimmerman hit that one out.
“The minute he hit that ball it was electric. Everybody kind of jumped up, and he was running the bases, but everybody was like, ‘Hey, we can do this.’
“There’s no doubt about it, and the reason why is because of what he did. He stepped up in a big moment, hit the home run and like I said, got us going.”